Philadelphia recently became the first U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate. But it may not be the last.
Having reached a 50% increase of cases in 10 days, Philadelphia’s top health official, Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, believed the city had met the threshold increase of the guidelines that call for people to wear masks indoors. The health commissioner said she wanted to forestall a potential new wave driven by the omicron subvariant, which has spread rapidly throughout Asia and Europe and has become dominant in recent weeks in Philadelphia. She felt the city had no choice but to require masks indoors again. However, the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reports that admissions have remained low and advises against requiring masks.
The latest outbreak has hit many high profile officials including the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Some universities have reinstated mask mandates. Most cities and states dropped their masking requirements in February and early March. New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put less focus on case counts and more emphasis hospital capacity.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has paused his push to unwind many of the city rules as cases have risen, opting to keep the mask mandate for children ages 2 to 4 in schools and preschools. Adams has said he will listen to his team of medical doctors. New York City is now averaging 1,800 new cases per day — about three times higher than early March when New York began easing the rules.
The announcement is a major blow to many small businesses. The lack of agreement by health officials can only add further confusion to the public at a time when most people have put away their masks.
So far, our state is not yet considering a new mask order, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. Infections have stayed relatively low in Washington state. At the end of March, the Department of Health reported a seven-day average of 535 infections compared to the 440 in the prior 10 days. But that is still far from mid-January levels when the state had 19,700 infections and 300 hospitalizations per day.
Unlike other parts of the country, there is no threshold for reinstating masking requirements. But the governor has previously stressed his concern about the impact on the health system. King County does not yet currently meet the CDC’s or Philadelphia’s criteria for a return to masking. Also, the state board of health recently voted against adding COVID to the list of required K-12 vaccinations.
Some local businesses have a sign up that says “masks encouraged.” But in grocery stores or restaurants, those wearing masks still stand out.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.